By Salisu Uba Kofar-Wambai
It is very mind-blowing to view a national football team that ideally suppose to possess the quality of national outlook looking so sectional and tribal. Unfortunately, for quite a long time, the Nigerian football national team has been dominated by only what we called “southern players” at almost every level.
One will wonder why the utmost and utterly lopsidedness? After all, with its advantages, thanks to its vast population over the South, northern Nigeria has the upper hand to have more visibility in such national assignments. However, the reverse is always the case. Is that signifying that the northern folks lack interest in sports, especially football? Or does it mean that the North is consciously hiding its light under a bushel? NO!
If one wakes up at dawn in northern cities and towns, the young, agile athletes are often the first people to meet exercising to their respective football pitches.
Moreover, the geographical advantage in terms of the landmass, with all the potentialities of its flatness, accurate for football arena and pitches against terrain nature and scarcity of southern land is another pointer that ought to have shot north ahead.
It is an indisputable fact that if you take around northern states, you will invariably discover that numerous football clubs are established in several places in the region. You will find players who can match the skills and talents of Messi, Ronaldo, Zidane, Figos, but all – or most – go nowhere. They mostly played in their small villages and ended up uncelebrated.
In Kano alone, the heart of the North, there are more than thousands of clubs playing in different levels and capacities. The Sports Ministry is, year-in-year-out, organising leagues for these clubs from league A to Z. These clubs produce young talents that can play at every level of football worldwide.
With globalisation and communication technologies taking centre stage of our lives, if one goes to viewing centres, where foreign leagues matches are shown, the story and impression one will get is that football has become part and parcel of our youths’ routine. It’s now popular culture. Football is always the topic of discussion on the lips of northern youth. Therefore, the football obsession comes in both ways – theoretical and practical, respectively. But why northern players are almost absent or underdogs in the national team?
And again, with football now going lucrative venture that quickly shoots up people to billionaire charts, with the abject poverty bedevilling the north and youth joblessness, sports can do a lot towards alleviating these monsters if taken significantly.
The central question is why many a time Kano clubs are the favourites and always win all Nigerian secondary schools? I think the appropriate answers to these questions are:
The North should embrace sports as a way of livelihood like its southern counterparts and encourage its youth to put in their best. The North should also give them support in terms of mentorship, send people of interest, read coaching courses, and, of course, financial assistance. Our well-to-do and government should facilitate our talents to get contracts in Europe through agents that secure clubs for players.
Our soccer administrators should make it compulsory for every coach vested with the responsibility of forming teams, especially in the under-17 and under-20, to always go round Nigeria for the players’ selection process. In most cases, those coaches sit back in their regions, select players from the South because they have already stereotyped northerners as worthless in that respective. And it is mostly the players of these levels that graduate into senior national teams levels and secure lucrative contracts to play in the prestigious leagues of Europe.
Northern youth should also try to go off weeds smoking; it is unfortunate to see a talented footballer and later find out that he’s a weed smoker. Most of them end up without achieving anything for obvious reasons. They should equally try to finish their secondary schools and be ready to go anywhere to play and show their resilience.
And above all, parents should pray for the guidance of their kids.
By doing this, I think the North will avoid the situation we are currently experiencing where northerners are a dot in the circle in the team of players representing Nigeria in the ongoing Olympics games in Japan.
Salisu Uba Kofar-Wambai is a PhD student at the Department of Mass Communication, Bayero University, Kano. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.